Failed Discipline

Discipline, when done well, is all about relationship. My wife watches our grandchildren. In the process of the day, there are moments when she tells them “NO!” or scolds them. They often respond with tears. And in that moment of hurting, the person they want most, is their Grandma. They may not fully understand that they are longing for the relationship to be strong; to thrive. But I am confident that their running into the arms of their Grandma is all about relationship. And so is the discipline. I have never had a problem hugging a child who has just been disciplined, whether that be my children when they were little, or my grandchildren now. I want the relationship to be strong as well. I want the relationship to thrive. Somewhere along the way, have we forgotten that it is about relationship?

Isaiah 9:8-10:4 is one oracle. We are going to look at the first section (vv. 8-13) today. Right after the message of Messianic hope, Isaiah brings them jarringly back to the present reality. The Master – Adonai – sends a word against Jacob; a word that will fall on Israel. The word “fall” often holds the idea of violence. Well, that is not entirely off the mark. The word against the northern kingdom is about destruction. It has already been uttered several times in this Vision: 1:2-3; 2:6-8; 5:1-7, 8-30; 6:9-10; 7:7-9; 8:1-3. Because Yahweh has sent out this message all the people know it. Ephraim, which often stood for the northern kingdom and those who dwell in Samaria, the capitol have heard and know the word of God and instead of responding with a humble submission, they utter out of the swelling up and greatness of their heart – out of pride and arrogance – a message of defiance. The bricks are destroyed! So what! We will rebuild with smooth stones. Stones are better than brick. The sycamore tree, plentiful but not particularly sought after, has been cut down. So what! We will plant ourselves some cedars. Basically they are saying that no matter what God brings their way, they will rebuild better and become even greater. They are like defiant children, who, while in time out, color on the walls.

Therefore Yahweh will exalt adversaries against him from Rezin, the king of Aram. This is interesting because Israel was in league with Aram. They were rebellion partners. But the reality was that Pekah was merely Rezin’s puppet. And for a time, Yahweh allowed him to rise up, and cause himself some havoc. But Aram was no friend to Israel. Israel joined forces with them out of fear and a desire to break the yoke of Assyria. So, on the east was Aram and on the west was Philistia. These were the main parties of the rebellion. Israel may view them as allies, but they are actually swallowing Israel down with their whole jaw. Picture a snake with unhinged jaw swallowing down its victim. So, again, these nations were not allies of Israel. They were enemies taking advantage of Israel’s rebellious pride and arrogance.

And then we have a refrain found throughout this oracle: His anger does not turn back and his hand is continuously stretched out. A swelling pride; a reliance on one’s own greatness; are rampaging in the heart of Israel. God’s anger does not turn back because their hearts remain rebellious. And not just against Assyria. They are rebelling against God. They are stomping their feet and spewing out a defiant self-reliance. Verse thirteen helps us to see the heart of Yahweh. This outstretched hand of discipline is not about righteous indignation; it is not a blind striking; it is not the abusive hand of a tyrant. No. It is the hand of a God who longs for his people to turn back to him. He longs for their hard hearts to melt into a humble turning. He longs for them to see the purpose of his outstretched hand. He longs for his hands to be stretched out in embrace rather than discipline. But they do not seek Yahweh of Armies and his heart is breaking. Can you see it? The wrath of God; the discipline of God; is always a longing for renewed relationship.

The goal of an outstretched hand is renewed relationship. This was not about a controlling God; a tyrant. This is about a longing for embrace; a turning back; a return from the far country to a Father who runs to greet and fall on the neck of his son. And our obedience today (yes we are called upon to obey our Father) is not about avoiding the outstretched hand of discipline. There are consequences for disobedience, to be sure, but the obedience is about relationship; a growing, thriving relationship with a loving God. It is sad that this discipline of Israel failed. God did everything he could; that was divinely possible, and yet they remained in their rebellion. Don’t do that. Make your relationship with God strong.